Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Netflix’s ‘Nyad’ is about the life and journey of 60-year-old long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. The sports biopic film follows Nyad as she comes to terms with her age and faces rejections from her team and people she knows for wanting to attempt something no one has ever done, especially at her age. Her best friend and trainer, Bonnie Stoll, is her biggest cheerleader, but she also has doubts about what Nyad wants to attempt.
Annette Bening and Jodie Foster star as the two friends who dare to look beyond their years in the pursuit of a lifelong dream. As they team up to help Nyad complete a 110-mile swim, the journey is nothing short of thrilling and unbelievable. The film uses swimming as an example to inspire people to believe in themselves and not give up. While it succeeds in motivating, let’s satiate our curiosity about how true these events are.
Based on Diana Nyad’s Real Story and Journey
‘Nyad’ is inspired by the events in the real life of athlete Diana Nyad and adapted from her 2015 autobiography ‘Find a Way.’ The screenplay by Julia Cox focuses on Nyad’s incredible journey as penned in her novel, but specifically on one major achievement of her career, which came at the age of 64. As a swimmer, Nyad’s heart had always been set from a very young age, possibly her 20s, on one day completing the “Mount Everest of swims,” from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, across the vast Atlantic Ocean. After many failed attempts, Nyad reportedly became the first to successfully swim across the stretch without a shark cage at the age of 64, covering a 110-mile distance in around 53 hours.
As mentioned in her autobiography, Nyad retired at the age of 30 from professional swimming to become a sports journalist. This gave her a stable career, but it was always at the back of her head that she never got to fulfil her dream of reaching the finish line of Florida. When her mother, Lucy Winslow Curtis, passed away at the age of 82, Diana felt a deeper connection to her dream, thinking that she possibly only had around two decades of her life left and that she needed to make it count. This is why, at the age of 60, she roped in Stoll and decided to commit to finishing the race. But it wasn’t an easy task, and there were many terrors of the ocean she needed to face.
Before Nyad, Walter Poenisch and Susie Maroney had made it to the Straits in 1978 and 1997, respectively, but both of them had a shark cage. Nyad, too, had attempted to complete the stretch for the first time when she was 28 in a shark cage for 42 hours, but the wind conditions weren’t in her favor, and the cage itself was taking her off course, so she couldn’t finish it. When she turned 30, before retiring, she succeeded in completing a 102-mile course from North Bimini Island, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida, but this still wasn’t the 110-mile stretch she had in mind. This is why, at the age of 60, she started training for the Cuba to Florida stretch again and made three more attempts before she successfully completed it in September 2013.
When she touched land after completing this daring feat, the first thing she said through a swollen face was, “Never, ever give up,” and she even asked her supporters and onlookers not to think they’re too old to go after their dreams. Out of the hospital and during many talks later, Diana explained that her agenda that time around was to “find a way,” which also later became the title of her memoir since she didn’t want to give too much emphasis to her age or the obstacles in her way, and wanted to just find a way to figure it out, which she eventually did. A few months after this accomplishment, Nyad also shared hilarious details of how she survived those 53 hours at that age with asthma. In the pitch dark with a protective jellyfish mask to prevent deadly stings, she kept humming John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in her head over and over again.
Even if Nyad didn’t use a shark cage, she did make use of shark divers and electronic shark-repellent devices during her journey. Many critics and athletes have over the years even questioned Nyad’s credibility and claims of her completing the races, but Nyad decided to cooperate with them, and when she completed this race and provided the details, she claims that most of them were convinced. Nyad has also spoken about how when she attempted this stretch again at 60, she knew she had some experience with the ocean, but it was still difficult. She didn’t know when someone else would attempt to do this too, but she was determined to fulfil her dream because, at that point, it became about something much bigger than just being the first person to achieve something like this. It became something that she had waited 36 years to complete, and she finally did it.
Read More: Where Was Nyad Filmed?